SVU Episode #13-22: Strange Beauty


I would give an arm and a leg not to have watched tonight’s episode about ritual amputation. I had to put away the popcorn, and I’m still feeling a little woozy. What a freakshow: Men with rubber wings implanted in their shoulder blades! Women with surgically altered elf ears! Severed limbs floating in canals!


Shake it off, Leotta. You’ve got a blog to write.

Okay. We open with a pretty girl being abducted by a rogue taxi driver. Soon, her leg is found floating in the Gowanus Canal. Anyone who’s seen the Gowanus shouldn’t be surprised by the next revelation: several mystery legs have been dredged from its murky depths. All were cleanly sliced off at the knee. And forensic examination reveals that their owners were still alive when the limbs were severed.

Is this the work of some sick guy, or just a new women’s razor gone terribly wrong?

When the rest of the girl’s corpse turns up, our good detectives must delve into the seamy underworld of “body modification,” where women pay to have their ears shaped like elves, and men have horns surgically implanted into their foreheads. Ice-T and Amanda go to a carnival tent – literally a freakshow, filled with tattooed, body-bending extras who were clearly the reason for this entire episode – and pretend to be a couple looking to spice up their sex lives by reshaping their cartilage.

The trail soon leads to a pretty one-legged dental receptionist, who makes a side business out of stealing her employer’s nitrous oxide and surgically altering people into the fantasy creatures of their choosing. At first, the detectives think the receptionist amputated her own leg as a sort of avant-garde extension of ear piercing. But she swears it was from bone cancer.

Is she a victim or a perp?

Our detectives discover a one-legged prostitute – the former owner of one of the Gowanus gams – who tells them she sold her leg to a man for $25,000 to pay for her drug habit.

Is it the receptionist’s creepy dentist boss or his psychiatrist brother? Turns out, the brothers’ mom lost her leg in a car accident when they were kids. The psychiatrist became obsessed with one-legged women. After counseling the brave receptionist through her bone-cancer amputation, he decided women simply look better with one leg. Thus began his mission to de-leg the women of New York.

After a heart-to-heart with Olivia and Amanda, he cheerfully leads the detectives to the world’s least-monitored storage facility (didn’t anyone notice women going in with two legs and leaving with one?).  In his penthouse storage unit, the sick psychiatrist has a little shop of horrors, complete with surgical saws, operating tables, and before-and-after photos of his victims. His eyes get all dreamy as he contemplates how Olivia and Amanda would look as amputees. They scowl, cuff him, and lead him away.

Verdict: C

What they got right:

The detectives tonight used some very standard and respectable techniques that real police really use. Their methods included many we’ve discussed on this blog before: pulling security video, tracking cell phone numbers, looking up tattoos in the tattoo database, interviewing witnesses, police lying to witnesses to get a confession, and DNA testing to find the legs’ owners. All methods were quite realistic and authentic. It was just the subject matter that was bizarre and over-the-top.

As Nick said, “This just got weird.”

But – they had some basis in fact. There really is a whole freaky subculture of self-mutilation (also known as body modification). As someone with pierced ears, I may be waxing hypocritical here. But I spent way too much time going down a most disturbing Google rabbit hole tonight. If you have a strong stomach and the desire to see images you may never be able to get out of your head, click here to explore 3D body art, Satanic scarification, suspension (this one actually made me shriek), and even body modification for pets.

The show is certainly not falling into the trap of being predictable or cliched. You won’t find any crazed psychiatrists with sexualized amputation fetishes on Everybody Loves Raymond. Our SVU writers have proven themselves willing and able to go far afield to keep the show fresh and unique for us.

Um… thanks?

 What they got wrong:

I’ve never heard of somebody getting their left leg cut off in some sort of bizarre ritualized mutilation fantasy. The right leg, perhaps.

No, seriously, I don’t need to tell you how crazy the plot was.  We all know the entire storyline was just an excuse for that crazy body-mod circus tent.  Which was some seriously entertaining television, but not remotely like any real case in the history of real cases.

On a more specific level, I’ve seen some terrible money-making schemes, but a prostitute selling her leg for $25,000 just doesn’t ring true. People have been known to sell their extra organs for money (kidneys are popular). Funeral parlors have been charged with cutting off corpses’ limbs and selling them for medical research. The worst thing I saw as a prosecutor were mothers who sold their own children into prostitution in order to fund a drug habit. But I’ve never heard of a single person selling their limbs for any amount of money. Maybe I’ve just been hanging out in the wrong circus tents.

Well, what do you think, SVU fans? Is amputation the new black? Would you be willing to sell any part of your body for cash? And what are the chances that a crazed psychiatrist who has a leg-amputation fetish would fall for a one-legged girl who just happens to be into surgical body-modification? Leave your comments!



  1. says

    It was a weird plot – but not unique. Joseph Wambaugh’s latest novel, Harbor Nocturne, includes a similar theme about amputee fetishes On page 1 of the book he even names it: “apotemnophilia”. Just when we thought we’d seen it all…

  2. Michelle Cunin says

    I agree. This episode is freaky. Though I would’ve loved to have seen this one with Elliot and Liv working on

    • says

      Michelle, I was thinking the same thing! Especially in that scene where Ice-T and Amanda went into the freakshow tent and pretended to be a couple — that screams E&O.

  3. James Pollock says

    While I agree that there probably isn’t really a market in severed limbs, I suspect (rather strongly) that it is a lack of demand rather than a lack of supply.

  4. Alenna says

    Entertaining story in a Frankensteinish way. I don’t know why but I liked this episode better than the last two. I actually thought the guilty party was going to be the Dentist – he had that kind-of “Lon Chaney” vampire look. I’m not sure why this would be an SVU case though. No real sex or child abuse involved. I guess initially they might have thought the taxi kidnapping was a “rape in progress”. But once the body was found, wouldn’t it become the realm of the Homicide detectives?

    I liked Olivia and Amanda working together – reminded me a little of the old show Cagney & Lacey (about 2 women detectives back in the 1980s). Both Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino seem like they finally feel comfortable in their roles. It was nice to see Tamara Tunie back at the morgue again. Still miss the ADA – courtroom scenes.

    • says

      Yeah, I had the dentist in my cross hairs too. He was so creepy, and he had those torture-y looking photos hanging from his walls. I guess the SVU detectives handled this for the same reason they responded to the 911 call a couple episodes ago … because they’re the stars.

      I also want more courtroom scenes. We should start a petition.

      I liked the two-woman team, too! I have one of those in my next book, Discretion, and it was a fun dynamic to write.

  5. Josh says

    “On a more specific level, I’ve seen some terrible money-making schemes, but a prostitute selling her leg for $25,000 just doesn’t ring true.”

    I don’t know about that, considering that some of today’s society does some stupid things in the name of attention (people who watch jackass know what I’m talking about), to quote Elliot Stabler “I don’t think anything really surprises me anymore.”

    “If you have a strong stomach and the desire to see images you may never be able to get out of your head”

    Well considering some of the things they’ve shown on SVU over the years, I think most of us are already half-way there. 😉 I’m not terribly sure if that’s something I should be proud of or not.

    I’m looking forward to the season finale next week. Dean Winters (mayhem himself) will be reprising his role as former svu detective Brian Cassidy from season 1 of SVU. He and Olivia had a one night stand back during his tenure. He wanted more from that and Olivia was trying to keep from getting more romantically involved with someone at work. Considering what she’s been through since then, that’s going to make for some awkward conversation with him and co-workers alike.

    • says

      Good point about SVU fans having a strong stomach! 🙂 And can any of us really be surprised any more? I can’t wait to see Dean Winters in the finale. It looks good. It’d be fun if he and Olivia struck something up again, but we don’t have much time in the season left for that.

  6. Carl N. Brown says

    I recall reading Kraft-Ebbing forty years ago and have had an interest in extreme crime (Peter Kurten, etc.) since having my wind warped by the original news reports on Ed Gein. I just feel some of the stories on L&O:SVU and others are not based on realistic crimes or real criminals but on the imaginations of the screenwriters (the intelligent and imaginative writer projecting “why would I do something like that?)). I have found that real extreme criminals are not warped masterminds with elaborate motivations, but rather banal.

    Anyway, I thought the meme of tatoos and piercings as a gateway to body modification and amputation was a stretch.

  7. luLu says

    I commend you to be able to critique this ridiculous scenario. The writers of this episode must have had terrible nightmares as children.

  8. Jason says

    I saw the prostitute not so much “selling her leg” but basically “letting the john do what he wants for the right price.”

  9. Jason says

    Oh, I have another question, and it’s an honest question, not being snarky. Were NYPD detectives really so busy with terrorism investigation right after 9/11 that cases like the severed leg being found in the water would fall through the cracks?

    • says

      I hate to say it but — yes. After 9/11, investigation into a lot of other run-of-the-mill crimes plummeted. A lot of agents and officers were reassigned to terrorism investigations.

  10. Mary says

    Allison,,, standing outside as I type, chatting with your mother, CAN’T WAIT TO DISCOVER YOUR NOVELS !!!!! CONGRATULATIONS !!!!

    Mary Percey

  11. Dave says

    Yeesh…I too made the mistake of starting to eat right as this episode was beginning. Nothing like having dinner as Warner whips a sheet off of a severed leg and we get a nice closeup of the decaying tattoo.

    I don’t know how I felt about this episode, but I don’t believe I cared for it very much (although seeing Ice T pretend to be into Amanda…that was kind of funny for some reason). It just seemed like they were trying to be over the top but didn’t have a terribly engaging story to surround “hey, here’s some weird people!”

    That’s all I’ve got for this one, so I’ll conclude my comment with my ideas for future L&O spinoffs:
    Law & Order: Court Officers – All about the drama surrounding the world of bailiffs and hauling unruly perps to the cage for contempt charges.
    Law & Order: Redshirts – Starfleet security, it’s about more than just being killed horribly on an alien planet.
    Law & Order: Justice Department – A little instant justice, Mega City One style. Possible alternate title: I Am the Law & Order, Creeps.

    • JustAGuy says

      John Scalzi is apparently writing a book (or has written a book) which is a Star Trek parody from the perspective of the RedShirts.
      It is supposed to be pretty funny when it comes out.

      • says

        Dave, I love your spinoffs! You should make them on YouTube, you’d have a million followers. JustAGuy: as a bit of a Trekkie myself, I am going to have to check out that book.

  12. scarlett67 says

    I was looking online to see when they were going to have an encor of this episode because I missed it last Wednesday due to Crimina lMinds’ 2 hour season finale which, I should mention, was excellent. Ick. Maybe I didn’t really miss anything? The trailer did look creepy but from the description above, did I say ick? I won’t be downloading it from iTunes to wach, that’s for sure! LOL Thanks for the review!

    • says

      I’m glad you liked the review, Scarlett. This was obviously not one of my favorite episodes. I did like the scene where Ice-T and Amanda go to the carnival tent and pretend to be a sexually adventurous married couple.

  13. Karen says

    There have been documented cases of people feeling the compulsion to amputate limbs and going to great lengths to do so. So I don’t think the plot was that big of a reach.

  14. says

    I was stumbling around Google and stumbled across this and found myself quite offended. People actually do amputate their limbs in the name of body modification.
    It sickens me how the world can so blindly decide that anything different than their society-designed “normal” is “sick”. Body modification has been a huge part of my life since childhood. I’ve had my earlobes stretched over 1 and a half inches. I have tattoos. I’ve pierced (no, not gone to a shop and had pierced but pierced myself) From my ears and all over my face down to places that get far less light.
    I’m sure plastic surgery is seemingly enough normal for you.
    It’s all the same. We look to stand out. Everybody.
    Everything, everybody does. Is body modification.

    Netflix has “Flesh & Blood”. As well as “Modify”. You’ve delved google. Which is great. But filled with stupidity.’s wiki page is great too.

    I wish the outside could see from our perspective.
    There’s no need for the chaos.

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